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Trade Unions

Volume 941: debated on Wednesday 14 December 1977

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15.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he next intends to meet leaders of the trade unions representing transport workers.

I meet the leaders of transport unions frequently. I expect to meet some of them tomorrow.

Has the Minister raised with Mr. Jack Jones the allegation made in the Press by British Rail that the Transport and General Workers Union is using "blacking" methods to prevent goods being switched from lorry to rail, and that it has used the same methods to negative the use of the Didcot distribution centre?

I do not want, in the House, to comment on confidential conversations that I have from time to time on an informal basis, but the hon. Gentleman fairly indicates the sort of problem that is bound to arise from time to time, in circumstances in which men are competing for too few jobs.

Has the Minister received representations from the trade unions over the artificial demarcation between his Department in dealing with the ports and the Department of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment in dealing with inland waterways transport?

I do not think that I have had any formal representations to that effect, but my hon. Friend has drawn my attention to the need to look at matters affecting inland waterways and ports together. I am in close consultation with my right hon. Friends to ensure that there is proper harmonisation of policies in this respect.

Will the Minister take note of the pressure that is being applied by the railway unions in Wales for the electrification of railways there? There is not a single mile of electrified railway in Wales, compared with 2,000 miles in England and 58 per cent. of the railway system in Norway.

The railway trade unions and the British Railways Board are fully aware of the advantages of electrification. I am willing to consider on their merits any proposals that are put before me.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in some ways it is natural that there should be differences of opinion between the various trade unions representing their members on the carriage of traffic? Does he not agree that, understandably, discussions are taking place and that the "blacking" is a bit bad? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Therefore, will he use his good offices to encourage the leaders of the two major unions involved to thrash out these matters, in the interests of integrated transport?

My hon. Friend fairly describes the problems. I do not think that there is any need for a positive intervention from me, because both major trade unions at the most senior level are aware of the need to get together in trying to solve the problem.

When the Minister next meets the leadership of the Transport and General Workers Union, will he discuss the decision reached yesterday by 5,000 trunk route lorry drivers in Glasgow that they will strike on 1st January if tachograph proposals and regulations on drivers' hours and distances are implemented? Will he confirm that he will be introducing the tachograph as part of these arrangements from 1st January—or what will he say to the TGWU?

I do not know whether I shall be discussing this matter. My discussions are informal, on common problems. We must not jump to any conclusions, and I do not think that anybody will act unwisely. We are not wholly clear what the obligation will be from 1st January, but everybody in this country has respect for the law, whatever the law may be.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in the face of criticism the TGWU—Opposition Members know nothing about its workings—in its general approach has been kind to a fault? It has recognised the difficulties of other trade unions, has always put forward its belief in an integrated road transport service, and, indeed, has been criticised for not holding its end up enough.

The House would be wise to "cool it" on some of these matters. That is often the best way to find a solution to difficult problems.